I’d no idea what to expect when I entered the Institute For Figuring (as in mathematical) after locating it in-between The Chinese Unity Association of Greater Los Angeles and The Empress Pavilion, in the midst of Los Angeles’ Chinatown. I was a little nervous. But if we don’t try those nerve rattling things in the world, life would be pretty boring. At least that is what I have told myself for as long as I can remember. And probably why, when anyone asks what is my favorite quote of all time, I always cite Eleanor Roosevelt’s:
“We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face . . . we must do that which we think we cannot.”
I was a bit early, and there did not appear to be anyone else in the building. Gallery I guess I should call it. A gallery of very colorful and visually enticing mathematically conceived paper art and needlework. More about that in a bit. Then Margaret Wertheim was suddenly standing in front of me.
It was a little awkward. Here was this physicist I had heard speak about amateur physicists, and a book she had written about these outsiders with homegrown theories of the universe, Physics on the Fringe: Smoke Rings, Circlons and Alternative Theories of Everything, at a Caltech Skeptics meeting, what? a year or two prior, and me, an artist, writer, new media, whatever it is I am . . . And we are standing in this empty gallery, except for all the vivid trigonometrical art on the walls. And I am wondering just how early I am and should I have stopped in one of the plentiful neighborhood restaurants for some chicken wings rather than barging in ahead of the appointed workshop start time.
Nor did I have much idea what this Institute for Figuring was about, since it was my best artist friend Joe up in San Francisco who went online and found out about it after I told him about the interesting lecture by the rarity, a woman, scientist at Caltech. And it was Joe who told me I needed to go to scout out this “fascinating sounding place.”
Joe is better at thinking to look things up than I am. You might remember from my last post that it was he who checked out the identity of the group who hacked this blog of mine last month. I just stared at their stupid signature and my way gone web site blog and wept. But Joe headed for an Internet search engine and emailed back to let me know it was an infamous middle eastern hacking group. (Not to be too hard on myself – I did manage to get the site back up and harden coded it against future jerk black hat hackers.)
After her Caltech lecture, it had not occurred to me to look up Margaret Wertheim, either. But Joe did – and called to let me know not only about this Institute, but about a fascinating art project she was doing with her twin sister, Christine Wertheim, involving the crocheting of the entire underwater coral reef.
And when I finally took Joe’s advice and looked up the Institute for Figuring online, I saw they were having a Saturday, open to the public, workshop in origami business card folding and animating.
It was Joe then who had said, “Well, of course you will go, it sounds right up your alley!”
Whichever alley he was referring to I am not quite sure, because I have had zero experience with origami in my life. Continue reading “Do You Fold?” – Episode One of My Afternoon at The Institute for Figuring in L.A. with Physicist Margaret Wertheim and Other New Acquaintances